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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2342

"Investors could become Invaders," says Prof. Swaran Singh

Colombo, 23 February, (Asiantribune.com):

February’s Security Salon organized by the Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka (INSSSL) was held at the Ministry of Defence where Professor Swaran Singh pointed out that “Investors could become invaders,”.

The meeting which was held on Wednesday, 22nd, was presided by Additional Secretary-Defence, Mr. Sarath Kumara. Director General-INSSSL Asanga Abeyagoonasekera introduced and invited eminent scholar, Swaran Singh, Professor, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi deliver a lecture on “Sri Lanka in China-India Relations: An Indian Perspective.”

The presentation was largely grounded on historical baggage in mutual policies and perceptions since their independence and how India has seen itself central to China's engagement with Sri Lanka. Speaker highlighted different policies and practices by successive governments and how these impacted on Sri Lanka's proximity to either of these two big neighbors. The 1950s, he showed began with "advantageous India" due to the shared colonial experience of both India and Sri Lanka where China was not a factor in India-Sri Lanka relations nor was India a factor in China's easement of Sri Lanka.

It was with two visits of Chinese premier Zhou En-lai in 1957 and 1964 that a new era of China's entrenchment in Sri Lanka and "disadvantage India" begin with China becoming the largest Communist donor. As Prof. Singh pointed out, during the next few decades, we could see the pendulum swing between China and India depending on the preferences and policy shifts of the UNP and SLFP governments. More recently, Sri Lanka in China's eyes have moved from once being a saviour for isolated China to becoming a staging post for China’s strategic game plan. China today values this island’s strategic location in the Indian Ocean what, Prof Singh called, becoming a pearl in China’s “string of pearls” during the regime of President Mahinda Rajapakse.

The speaker drew attention to the fact that compared to Mongols and Arabic invaders, the modern day European had come as traders but soon proved worse then invaders. He used this framework to allude to China's smart strategy of converting its debt into equity in case of Sri Lanka's ports and in establishing a special industrial zone in Sri Lanka. He also underlined India’s limited leverages in replacing China. India was unable to offer the nature and magnitude of aid that Rajapakse obtained from China.

China’s massive investment in the Hambantota Port, he said is projected as an economic enterprise but it makes no economic logic given its zero commercial viability in the long term. But it makes strategic sense and brings political influence. India on the other hand enjoys 'social influence' and Sri Lanka civil society has often supported India and shows skepticism towards China. This argument was countered later in the discussion with a comment that Sri Lanka has a right to choose which country it engages with at different times irrespective of their intentions.

The professor concluded by saying that surely Sri Lanka has the sovereign right to choose its partnerships and that both China and India have unique strengths and weaknesses in engaging Sri Lanka. India, by virtue of its geographical proximity and also historical, cultural and societal links has different strengths than China which has strong commercial and defence cooperation with Sri Lanka.

A riveting discussion followed thereafter with many senior members (serving and retired) of the Sri Lankan armed forces and other members of the audience contributed their viewpoints presenting various perspectives that allowed Prof Singh to dwell on several more contemporary and current issues on China's engagement of Sri Lanka.

Some of the observations were on the role of India in the protracted armed conflict in Sri Lanka to which the speaker responded with the comment that his presentation was purely an Indian perspective, therefore he did not focus on the negative influence of India in this island nation. He however clarified that he was under no illusions that the Sri Lankan side have had no grievances. He specifically mentioned that he wished to focus on the limitations of India in comparison to the economic giant that is China.

There was also the concern about India’s inaction on the issue of its fishermen encroaching on Sri Lankan seas to which the speaker responded that he too agrees that India needs to do better but also underlined that no nation is perfect but how we respond to such irritants is where mature relationships make all the difference.

Prof. Singh’s views on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was also sought. His response was that legally speaking no nation should not invest in disputed territory of their country and that India has genuine reservations against China's investments in Pakistan administered Kashmir.

The event which was a success was attended by members of the diplomatic community, serving and retired members of the tri-forces and security experts.

- Asian Tribune -

"Investors could become Invaders," says Prof. Swaran Singh
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